The wannabe emperor’s new polls, and the ones before that

There’s context growing into the popular perception of The Donald’s manqué presidency. Never mind the snapshot, the Movie of House Trump is not an especially good one right now.

Michael Eric Ross
Apr 22, 2017 · 12 min read

Never in modern times has an American president fallen so far among so many of his fellow citizens so fast. That’s the main takeaway about the Trump White House from the latest opinion polls, any one of which seem to reinforce the results of the one before that and the one before that.

If the ascendancy of House Trump was a miracle of political aviation, the multitude of surveys from several established polling organizations point to that miracle approaching stall speed … some unknown time before the flagship of Icarus Airlines begins the five-spiral crash we know is coming.

We’ve seen the mountain looming in the windshield from a long ways off. There’s chronology and context growing into our popular perception of this manqué presidency, and it doesn’t look good for House Trump.

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It’s easy to react to one of a collection of the latest polls from a day or two ago or a week ago. That’s part of a snapshot view of the public mood about the Trump administration. What’s more telling is what comes next. What comes next is another, closer, wider look at what came before.

The same downbeat reaction to Trump policies and initiatives, the same oppositional perspectives from much or most of the country, have been the one consistent reaction from the voting public that publicly voted his way in November. And that’s the throughline that’s been building for weeks and months.

Never mind the snapshot, the Movie of House Trump is not an especially good one right now, and based on what we know from the director’s previous work, it ain’t gettin’ any better from here on in. The last 100 days don’t augur well for the next 100 weeks.

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Some of the most recent polling isn’t so much an indictment of the president-apparent as it is a series of brutally frank, confessional assessments of the corrosive national attitudes that led to his election. It’s polling at its emotional essence: The mood of the people as reported by the people. The latest American National Election Study is a case in point. The most recent ANES, released on April 10 and the subject of an analysis in The Washington Post on April 17, is enlightening — or maybe just confirming if you suspected the results all along. Many Americans did.

“Since 1988, we’ve never seen such a clear correspondence between vote choice and racial perceptions,” wrote Thomas Wood, an assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University, in the piece for The Post. “The biggest movement was among those who voted for the Democrat, who were far less likely to agree with attitudes coded as more racially biased. … The current American National Election Study ultimately served as proof of what many left-wingers have been saying all along.”

Wood said he used a “symbolic racism scale” — “to compare whites who voted for the Democratic presidential candidate with those who voted for the Republican. This scale measures racial attitudes among respondents who know that it’s socially unacceptable to say things perceived as racially prejudiced.”

Wood said that “the statistical tool of regression can tease apart which had more influence on the 2016 vote: authoritarianism or symbolic racism, after controlling for education, race, ideology, and age. Moving from the 50th to the 75th percentile in the authoritarian scale made someone about 3 percent more likely to vote for Trump. The same jump on the [symbolic racism scale] made someone 20 percent more likely to vote for Trump.

“Racial attitudes made a bigger difference in electing Trump than authoritarianism.”

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Not that it matters in some other important respects. The rationale for voting for Trump last year is fading as voters begin to weigh the campaign pledges of the pre-president-apparent against the reality of the man on the job. An April 17 Gallup poll found a 17-point plummet between February and April over whether Trump will keep his campaign promises.

“President Donald Trump’s image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises has faded in the first two months of his presidency, falling from 62% in February to 45%,” the Gallup survey found. “The public is also less likely to see him as a ‘strong and decisive leader,’ as someone who ‘can bring about the changes this country needs’ or as ‘honest and trustworthy.’”

Gallup’s earlier polling didn’t fare any better for the 45th president. The April 3 daily tracking poll reported a Trump approval rating of 39 percent. The week before, his rating dipped to 36 percent, for the three-day period of March 24–26, in the wake of Trump’s first major legislative defeat, the replacement for Obamacare.

That 36 percent, Gallup editor Frank Newport reported on the Gallup website, “is two percentage points below Barack Obama’s low point of 38%, recorded in 2011 and 2014. Trump has also edged below Bill Clinton’s all-time low of 37%, recorded in the summer of 1993, his first year in office, as well as Gerald Ford’s 37% low point in January and March 1975.”

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According to April 19th polling from the Quinnipiac University Poll, the country is, just in general terms, less enamored of its presumptive president than any other chief executive in modern history. Even accounting for a slight uptick of approval for his missile strike on Syria, Trump has 40 percent approval, with 56 percent disapproval.

Quinnipiac found the general perceptions of Trump’s personal qualities “are still mostly negative”: 58 percent say he’s not honest; 55 percent believe he doesn’t have good leadership skills; 57 percent think he doesn’t much care about average Americans; 63 percent say he’s not level-headed.

“With only a slight bombing bump, President Donald Trump stays mired in miserable numbers. The first 100 days draw to a close with character flaws overwhelming his strongest traits, intelligence and strength as a person,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

In the April 4 Quinnipiac survey, voters give Trump a 35 percent job approval rating, with 57 percent disapproving. That was down from the 37 percent Quinnipiac poll from two weeks before, and even worse than the 38 percent rating for President Obama — one of Q’s lowest — in 2013.

Malloy told CBS News that President Bush had a lower rating in 2008, and “it took eight years, two unpopular wars and a staggering economy to get there.”

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The April 4 report was an especially ecumenical, broad-based disaster: Trump failed with women (63 percent disapprove), with Democrats (91 percent disapproval), and non-white voters (77 percent). Fifty-two percent of voters felt flat-out embarrassed that Trump is in the White House.

Trump’s been shedding support among his cheerleader core: white Republican men and women — the very cohort that helped usher him into the White House in November. In the April 4 survey, only 39 percent of men approve of Trump’s performance, while 51 percent disapprove. Some 48 percent of white voters disapproved of Trump.

And it’s striking that, while most Republicans (79 percent) still approved of him in that survey, that was down from 81 percent two weeks earlier. Two weeks before that, in another Quinnipiac poll, that approval number was 91 percent. Trump shed 12 points among the people most predisposed to be in his corner. In a month.

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All the music for Trump needn’t be bad, Newport reported: “…[A]ll presidents have seen both upward and downward swings in their ratings at various points in their administrations — a historical precedent indicating Trump’s approval could drop further or recover in the weeks and months ahead.”

True enough: What goes down comes up sooner or later. But Trump inherits another cruel distinction, one that undercuts the usual tidal dimension of opinion polling. Being down so low so early, so reliably, and for so long, he’s got farther to climb to get to the break-even point that most of his predecessors enjoyed at the same point, or even later, in their administrations.

“As the first president in Gallup’s polling history to start his term with a job approval rating below the majority level, Donald Trump has already received the all-time lowest approval ratings of any president in his first year,” Gallup’s Lydia Saad reported on March 29.

“Already a trendsetter by earning the lowest initial job approval rating of any president and falling below 40% approval in record time, Trump’s recent … approval ratings are the lowest of any president in his first year,” Saad reported.

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More from Gallup: “Three two-term presidents — Reagan, Clinton and Obama — dropped below 40% approval in their first term. However, it is unusual for a president to cross that threshold in his first year (Clinton is the only other example), much less in his first month, as Trump did. …

“The paths of two other presidents — Carter and George H.W. Bush — should be more troubling to Trump, as neither won a second term once his approval rating fell into the 20s during the first.

“Carter hit his lowest point in the third year of his presidency. Following a brief rebound after the Iran hostage crisis in late 1979, his approval retreated into the 30s ahead of the 1980 election. George H.W. Bush reached his lowest point in his fourth year, just months before the 1992 election …”

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Other, earlier polls have broken down bad news for Trump in demographically granular fashion. Americans 18 to 30 years old think Trump’s presidency is straight-up illegitimate. That’s the outcome of the recent GenForward poll, conducted among 1,833 adults from February 16 to March 6.

Among the GenForward poll findings: “About 7 in 10 African Americans (71 percent), Asian Americans (69 percent), and Latino/as (72 percent) disapprove of Trump’s performance compared with 55 percent of whites.

“Majorities of young adults of all races and ethnicities have negative views of Trump’s policies and his demeanor.” And a Quinnipiac poll released on March 22 found 52 percent of men disapproving of his performance; and 44 percent of white voters disapproved.

This potpourri of … sad percentages was there in other cohorts of the population, going back into March. Some 60 percent of women disapproved of Trump in the March 22nd survey, 90 percent of Democrats (no surprise there), 60 percent of independent voters, and 75 percent among nonwhite voters.

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Trump’s needlessly breathless, never-ending quest to repeal and replace Obamacare in time for his 100th-day anniversary isn’t being well-received by the general public — including, apparently, people who voted for Trump. “Only 36 percent of American voters say Republicans in Congress should try again to repeal and replace Obamacare, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, while 60 percent say the Republicans should “move on,’ “ the Quinnipiac poll from April 20 found.

“Voters disapprove 65–29 percent of the way President Donald Trump is handling health care and say 54–22 percent that he is handling health care worse than former President Barack Obama,” the Quinnipiac poll found.

And more broadly, the April 20 Quinnipiac poll found Americans in side-eye mode about Trump on a number of pertinent issues. The survey found that 75 percent of Americans oppose Trump’s plan to work with Congress to lower taxes for the wealthy; 66 percent oppose Trump EPA efforts to kill off regulations meant to curb climate change; 66 percent oppose Trump’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood (a number that leaps to 85 percent when poll respondents were told that federal funds for Planned Parenthood don’t pay for abortions); and 64 percent of Americans are against building a wall on the border with Mexico.

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Other polls gauge the national mood on a social issue that will fall squarely in the lap of Attorney General Jeff Sessions; they’re a swipe at Trump by proxy. A CBS News poll released on April 20 finds that support for marijuana legalization or decriminalization is, well, at an all-time high.

From CBS News’ report on the poll: “Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll. Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.

“Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Legal pot use, state by state (CBS, citing data from the National Conference of State Legislatures)

“Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.

“More generally on the topic of drug abuse, 69 percent think that should be treated as an addiction and mental health problem rather than a criminal offense.”

A Quinnipiac poll also released on 4/20 — something about that date … — found that “American voters say 60–34 percent “that the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S.,” the highest level of support for legalized marijuana in their poll history.

“From a stigmatized, dangerous drug bought in the shadows, to an accepted treatment for various ills, to a widely accepted recreational outlet, marijuana has made it to the mainstream,” said Malloy of Quinnipiac.

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Sen. Mitch McConnell (Associated Press)

If there’s anything resembling an upside in all this for the president-presumptive, it’s the fact that Congress has been faring worst in opinion polls than he has. Quinnipiac’s April 4 poll found that 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are handling their business. That’s an increase of six points from two weeks earlier. Fully 57 percent disapprove of how Democrats are doing.

“As President Trump’s approval tanks, Congress, especially Republicans, follow right behind him,” Malloy observed.

Public perceptions of the work of the Senate, no great shakes to begin with, have fallen the worse. In what could be a signal of events in 2018, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a 14 percent approval rating in the poll. The Kentucky senator is upside down with 47 percent disapproval. The House did a little better, with Speaker Paul Ryan at 28 percent approval (52 percent dis).

And that poll was two weeks before the latest congressional attempt to reanimate the corpse of Trumpcare — the desperate aria for that plays out next week — even got started.

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But none of that’s not the star of the show, folks. Donald Trump is. And between now and the congressional election of 2018, a political Coriolis effect will have set in; the political weather will reflect movement of waves and currents that have come from a long distance, not a distance measured in miles but a distance measured in time. And that time has already started. The new polls, and the ones before that and the ones before that, are leading and lagging indicators of what’s likely to happen, in 2018 and beyond.

From the beginning, Trump has made his pursuit of the presidency a quest that was as much personal aggrandizement and business transaction as a civic mission. The surveys, and the public behind them, are reckoning angrily with the message perceived as coming from Washington: that it’s about him; that it was always about him even when they thought, and deeply believed, it could be otherwise.

But no. He was the avatar, the example, the embodiment of what they, his voters, his base, wanted. It’s his team; he’s the player and the coach. It’s his movie; he’s the director and the star.

And look where we are.

The Omnibus

Whatever, et al.

Michael Eric Ross

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The Omnibus

Whatever, et al.

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